Inside The Film Room is covering the 25th edition of Fantasia International Film Festival with reviews of all the latest genre films.
In 2017, directors Benny and Josh Safdie traveled to Fantasia Fest for the North American premiere of their breakout thriller “Good Time.” Known for their anxiety-inducing filmmaking style in which everything that can go wrong does, the brothers have quickly inspired a frenetic sub-genre of their own, and this year’s festival features a film that’s trying its best to fit the bill.
Coming from another duo of directors, “Baby Money” delivers similar pulse-pounding entertainment throughout a single night of crimes-gone-wrong. With a minimalist budget, cast and crew, what it lacks in flair it makes up for in thrills and suspense.
After finding herself facing an unexpected pregnancy and a looming eviction notice, Minny (Danay Garcia) and her boyfriend Gil (Michael Drayer) are running out of options. With nowhere left to turn, the two agree to serve as the getaway driver and lookout for a suburban break in two of Gil’s acquaintances are planning. But when the routine robbery turns into a deadly home invasion, the couple is split up, with Minny fleeing the scene and Gil pinned down in hiding with his accomplice, Dom (Joey Kern). While kept apart, the duo most work together to not only escape the police, but avoid Dom’s violent mood swings and find a way to still make out with the loot.
Taking place in near-real time over the course of a single night, you’d imagine the pacing of “Baby Money” to be as breakneck as the crimes its characters are committing. In reality, the film is very inconsistently paced, beginning and ending in a frenzied, Safdie-esque tempo, but stuttering a bit in between. After the initial excitement of the set up and the crime itself, a lot of time is spent waiting in between, while Gil and Dom are in hiding and Minny is scheming. While this time is no doubt important in developing each of the characters, as well as Taja V. Simpson’s Heidi, it drags on a bit too long and the overall story could have been tighter if the runtime was trimmed just five to seven minutes.
Garcia delivers a compelling performance in the leading role, balancing a fierce, no-matter-the-cost attitude while still conveying the raw fear and emotion of someone reluctantly pulled into this nightmare. However, with Minny front and center on the film’s poster, and the title itself referring to the desperation of the mother-to-be, there never truly seemed to be an emphasis on the relationship between her and the unborn child. As a result, the crimes committed don’t feel as they are done out of love or desperation, but instead just because Minny was involved with the wrong crew. Without fully exploring this would-be relationship, Garcia’s character never feels like a true lead and the film feels more like an ensemble piece.
In reality, it’s Simpson who turns in the film’s best performance. Her character, Heidi, is unwillingly involved in the lives of these criminals in more ways than one, all the way up until her house is used as cover for the crooks. As a quasi-hostage, the pure terror shown across Simpson’s face often says even more than her dialogue.
When it comes to entertainment, “Baby Money” delivers on gritty action and tense drama, but at times the script forsakes logic for entertainment. The instances are never too much to take viewers out of the world of the film, but a few questions will certainly linger once the credits roll.
All in all, “Baby Money” shows tremendous promise both in front of and behind the camera, with strong performances and plenty of excitement.
The film releases on VOD on August 31, 2021.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.